I’m based in the United Kingdom, so my experience is all of the National Health Service. Between ourselves I’ve tried to avoid too much contact with the medical profession. I had my appendix out in the 1980s, and then kept clear of them until I had cataract surgery in about 2013.
I started having gallbladder problems in 2014. The symptoms mainly consisted of something which felt remarkably like acutely painful trapped wind. Gall stones were diagnosed but because I wasn’t having problems, there was no hurry to operate. Indeed, a pack of twenty-four omeprazole lasted me for eighteen months.
Unfortunately, I then started feeling very unwell, drove myself to hospital and virtually collapsed in Accident and Emergency with pancreatitis. I was immediately given morphine for the pain and was rushed up onto a ward.
In our local hospital each ward consists of a corridor with six bed bays off one side of it. The bays are simply set out with three beds a side facing each other, the end wall away from the corridor is all windows. As I lay in my bed I realised that my bay was different, we might have three beds on my side of the bay but there were four on the other side. It was only when the morphine wore off that I realised that I’d been imagining the extra bed. It had seemed utterly real at the time. I confess to feeling a little cheated, under the influence of strong painkillers, my father had watched an excellent cricket match on a television that hadn’t even been plugged in. An extra bed seemed undeservedly mundane.
In the course of a couple of days, the gallstone that was blocking the duct and diverting bile into the pancreas moved on and I was sent home. I was then given a date for surgery. Before surgery the anaesthetist asked if I had any issues with various drugs and I mentioned the incident with the extra bed as it was the only occasion I’d experienced anything.
I had successful keyhole surgery and was discharged from hospital the same day. But the anaesthetic did play tricks on me.
My memories of what happened after the operation begin with me vaguely coming round in the recovery room. I could see a figure sitting to my left. I attempted to focus on the figure, realised it was a remarkably pretty nurse. I remember thinking, ‘That is nice,’ before passing out again.
Then I came round again, still groggy, and looked for the nurse, who was still there. She asked if I felt ready to go back to the ward, so I muttered something positive and went back to sleep. I don’t remember the trip to the ward, but I do remember feeling the patslide under me as I was transferred from trolley to bed. At this point I fell asleep again. A few hours later I woke up and this time felt properly conscious and whilst I dozed, I was generally aware of what was going on and eventually I just lay there and read until finally they decided I was fit to go home.
Next afternoon I was sitting quietly at home and the telephone rang. I answered it and a lady’s voice asked
“Is that Jim Webster.”
“This is Wendy, how are you after the operation?”
This question rather surprised me. I know one Wendy. I’d have recognised the voice, this wasn’t that Wendy. Now we do get a lot of cold-callers trying to do everything from hack into the computer to sell us insurance. But I couldn’t see how any of them would have known about the operation.
So cautiously I said. “I feel OK. But who on earth are you?”
“I’m Wendy. We talked yesterday afternoon and I explained I’d be your follow-up nurse.”
I mentally ran through the memories I had of yesterday. Memories I’ve written down above, and Wendy singularly failed to make any sort of appearance in them.
So I said, “Perhaps we ought to go through whatever you told me last time, because I remember none of it.”
So what seems to have happened is that whilst I was in the recovery room, Wendy had come in. She said my name and I responded perfectly coherently. I passed whatever checks she did to make sure I was adequately awake. (By definition I was present but remember none of this so I’m assuming she was telling me the truth.) After this she explained that as I was a day surgery patient, she was assigned to me to make sure I recovered properly. This meant she would phone me the following day, see how I was, and then keep in touch with me and organise an appointment for taking out stitches and similar. I had told her that this seemed an excellent idea. When she asked I’d given her my phone number. We’d had a further very brief conversation and she’d left. As she left the Nurse had asked if I was ready to go back onto the ward.
The following day Wendy had tried to phone me as promised. At this point she discovered that the phone number I’d given her didn’t work and she’d had to go through hospital records to get in touch with me.
What interested me as a patient is that Wendy, an experienced nurse, had talked to me and found me lucid, coherent and chatty. The only problem was that with perfect confidence I’d reeled off a telephone number that proved to be nonsense.
On the other hand I as the patient had absolutely no memory of the incident whatsoever. So much so that I was surprised when Wendy called, and was totally ignorant of the whole concept of being assigned to a nurse who would keep an eye on me after discharge from hospital.
I can only assume that this due to the way the drugs administered to me impacted on me. Obviously, we’re all different. But talking to various people since, the feeling is that if you have to impart information to a patient after an operation, make sure they leave hospital with a copy of that information in writing as well.